Business Management vs. Accounting: Which Degree is Right for You?

illustration of a woman with her arms considering business management vs accounting

You’re feeling pretty sure you want to go into the business field, but beyond that broad category, your career path clarity starts to falter. Business is obviously a large field that covers a variety of specialized expertise. Before you make any education plans, it will help to narrow down your focus so you can choose a path that suits your goals and interests.

The educational options Business Management and Accounting are two excellent options to start narrowing down the process. In this article, we’ll compare business management versus accounting so you’ll have a better understanding of the differences, similarities and which program may be the best fit for you.

Business management vs. accounting: Roles and responsibilities

While a role in management is a typical starting point, business management professionals are responsible for supervising and leading a group of people to further an organization’s business goals. Their tasks may include assigning work to team members, creating project budgets and making sure things adhere to deadlines. “My business management role also includes reviewing reports and key performance indicators based on the results we've achieved for our clients, as well as thinking outside the box to get our clients better results,” says Jason Hawkins, manager at Advertising for Surgeons.

Managers are needed throughout many different departments, including sales, marketing, design and human resources (HR). Potential business management job titles include but certainly aren’t limited to:

  • Sales manager
  • Marketing manager
  • Project manager
  • Retail general manager

On the other hand, accountants are responsible for keeping financial records in order, creating financial reports and looking at financial data to ensure that operations are cost effective. Accountants can expect to spend the first few years in the field focusing just on the numbers, according to Ryan Maxwell, CPA and CFO at FirstRate Data. As you advance in your accounting career, you’ll be exposed to more “business operations outside the finance function.”

Accountants can specialize in areas like private or public accounting, auditing, and taxes. Potential accounting job titles include:

  • Tax accountant
  • Internal/external auditor
  • Public accountant
  • Management accountant

Business management vs. accounting: Work environment

Business management and accounting careers may seem interchangeable because they share a similar work environment. Large corporations and small businesses alike have a need for skilled accountants and strong business leaders. However, just because these roles often take place under the same roof doesn’t mean their work environments are the same!

Our experts agree that business managers are more likely to work with others on a daily basis in a highly collaborative work environment that requires plenty of communication. Hawkins shares that he often spends his days talking with clients and working with several team members.

Accountants, on the other hand, are likely to spend more of their time on solo work. That’s not to say they never work on a team—meetings, audits, generating reports and other projects all require some level of collaboration. But unlike business managers, accountants probably won’t spend the bulk of their day communicating with others. Instead, they’ll complete their portion of a project before regrouping with their team or client.

The rhythm of work life can also be different in these two roles. Where business managers in most departments can expect a steady workload year-round—with occasional crunch times as they approach large project deadlines—accountants experience distinct slow and busy seasons. “One of the biggest distinctions between finance jobs and other functions is how cyclical the work is,” Maxwell says. “Accountants will be extremely busy during financial reporting season, and work is much more relaxed the rest of the year.”

Business management vs. accounting: Employment projections and earning potential

Salary expectations and job stability are always a consideration when weighing your career options. When it comes to the debate between business management and accounting, both paths appear to have solid prospects.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment in management occupations in general are projected to grow five percent from 2019 to 2029.1 The median annual salary for these occupations in 2019 was $105,660.1

If you narrow the field even further, individual business management titles have even more potential. For example, the BLS reports sales managers earned a 2019 median annual salary of $126,640, and the position has a projected employment growth of four percent through 2029.1 Marketing managers reported a 2019 median annual salary of $135,900, and their employment is projected to grow by six percent.1 Of course, it’s important to keep in mind these figures reflect typically well-established professionals who’ve worked their way up into these positions.

Accountants and auditors are also enjoying job growth that keeps pace with the national average at a projected growth of four percent through 2029.1 The median annual wage for accountants was $71,550 in 2019, with the highest 10 percent of earners making upwards of $124,450.1

Although this earning potential isn’t quite as high as some management careers, it’s certainly nothing to scoff at! Remember, an accounting background can also be used to propel your career to other areas of finance—or even management roles—as you advance in your career.

Business management vs. accounting: Skills needed to succeed

Management and accounting careers require different skill sets, both in technical knowledge and in soft skills. We used job-posting analysis software to analyze thousands of job postings nationwide and identify some of the most commonly sought-after skills. Here’s what we found for each.

In-demand management skills:2

  • Budgeting
  • Business administration
  • Project management
  • Customer service
  • Scheduling
  • Accounting
  • Sales
  • Business development
  • Staff management
  • Customer contact

In-demand accounting skills:2

  • Accounting
  • Budgeting
  • Financial reporting
  • Financial statements
  • Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)
  • Account reconciliation
  • Financial analysis
  • General ledger
  • Business administration

You can see that there’s a bit of overlap between the skills these career paths require. If you’re still feeling stumped, remember that soft skills matter too! They could be the deciding factor between these appealing fields.

Of management, Hawkins shares that “being able to understand employees and their emotional states are important. This will allow you to lead by example rather than leading by force.” As for accounting, Maxwell emphasizes the importance of communication rather than relying too much on technical skills, especially as you grow in your role.

Business management vs. accounting: Education

Last but not least in our comparison is education. Both accounting and management careers are likely to require a college education. An Associate’s degree may be enough to get started in lower-level jobs in either of these fields, but more advanced roles are likely to prefer candidates with a Bachelor’s degree.

With a college education being the standard, it may help to compare the types of courses you’ll take. While this is just a small sample of the courses you can expect to take in either an Accounting or Business Management degree program, seeing them side by side can give you a feel for the subjects you’ll cover.

Business Management courses:

  • Introduction to Business Analysis and Intelligence
  • Introduction to Functional and Project Management
  • Business Law and Ethical Behavior
  • Emerging Trends, Markets and Technologies in Business
  • Strategic Management

Accounting courses:

  • Principles of Accounting
  • Financial Investigation
  • Risk Management for Accountants
  • Cost Accounting
  • Corporate and International Accounting

Business management vs. accounting: The choice is yours

Making a career choice is never easy, but knowing the facts can help narrow down your options. Now that you have all the relevant information about business management versus accounting, you have the facts you need to choose the degree field that’s right for you.

Once your decision is made, all that’s left is to take the first step toward your new career! Find out how to get started by learning more about the Rasmussen University Business Management degree programs and Accounting degree programs.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed February 2021] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/home.htm and https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-1. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries, and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 1,290,140 business management jobs and 573,833 accounting jobs, February 1, 2020 – January 31, 2021).

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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